It’s a brave new world in New Mexico — cannabis is legal and a new industry is being built.
As of Tuesday, New Mexicans 21 and older legally can possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis or 16 grams of cannabis extract, or up to 800 milligrams of edible cannabis. An individual now can grow marijuana at home, perhaps a smart choice for those who consume. Until April, only medical marijuana patients legally can purchase the plant in New Mexico.
Much has to happen in the next few months for the industry launch to go smoothly. Regulations for growing and for selling are being written. Entrepreneurs and small farmers are considering whether they can jump into the business or whether the already established companies are too strong to take on.
Cities and counties are discussing how to zone for cannabis businesses and what other regulations they might consider.
Albuquerque is leading the way, and Santa Fe needs to start catching up. While the existing zoning structure has sensible regulations for what businesses can go where, cannabis shops have their own issues. Cities want to ensure there’s no overconcentration in one part of town.
Given the reality that cannabis tourism is likely to take off, we would wager marijuana shops will be in the historic district, as well as along Cerrillos Road or on the south side. Businesses want to be where the customers are.
Legalization leads to other considerations. Hotels and other lodging places likely will have to establish rules for what can and cannot be used in their locations, just as they do for smokers.
A big area of concern — one not worked out even in states that have had legal marijuana for years — will be public safety. Just because cannabis is legal, people cannot drive under the influence or show up for work stoned every day.
It already is illegal to drive impaired, but testing lawbreakers remains complicated because marijuana lingers in the body; tests simply show past use, not a user’s current state. Those rules, including developing accurate tests to catch impaired drivers, are being developed.
Then there is the workplace to consider. Will employers want to test all employees for marijuana? Or only test people who operate machinery or drive for a living? What about medical patients versus recreational users? Except in areas where safety is a concern, such tests invade privacy and won’t do much except waste an employer’s money.
One bright spot, for medical patients at least, is they now can purchase a less expensive product. Gross receipts taxes are no longer being charged on medicinal cannabis, saving patients money and giving marijuana the same exemption other prescription medicines receive.
The world is changing, and rapidly. Cannabis is legal. The new industry won’t replace oil and gas as a source of tax revenue, but it is another step in diversifying New Mexico’s economy. And diversification is essential to build a healthy foundation for the future. It is a brave new world, indeed.